The Crimson Queen of the Night

I walked through the crooked corners, rubber soles padded on the cobbled stone street, sat down on an uneven wooden bench with three fourth legs to look at dying light over the old oak tree and cry.

My grandfather came on a rusted red bicycle, and sat beside me, with his old French pipe and his worn suit jacket and the smell of smoke, oranges and regrets.

We were companions, sharing our souls and tired sighs and bleak gazes into the endless stretch of the night sky, surrounded by the low squeaking of the bicycle, with its nuts and bolts and chains sliding together, falling apart, trying to keep itself going.

There was no star in the sky, no moon gazing down, it was just us and the eerie flickers of the rusted lamp post.

Look, my grandfather said, look at the water lily, it’s blooming in the fading light of the twilight, sitting atop the dark water, in the red river separating heaven and hell, displaying its color like a mysterious lover –

I jumped to my feet, bewitched, it was my water lily – my first vision, of love – yearning,

And the palm of fate caresses me, filled with warmth and tenderness, shooting dreams and hopes up into the diamond sky, the sky was the limit.

Floating amongst clouds and flirting with the moon, blindly believing that love will prevail, that the winds will take us further than any old wheels

How naïve was I, and how naïve was the water lily, the beauty that yearns for the moon but can never escape the mud, the dark water, the red rust covering the old bicycle, and the smoke from my grandfather’s cheap Cambodian tobacco.

Oh, water lily, your crimson petals once enchanted me, you were bright eyed and bushy tailed and full of love, you were the elegant queen of the night, and I loved you then!

Now you lie on the mucky water, broken and battered, crimson bleeding out from your crown, your wounds and your heart.

Gray and black and red, the rust and smoke were nothing but death and old bicycles.

And dirty artificial steel and concrete, veil of smog covering rosy cheeks, roaring of machinery, buried underneath six feet of dust and bile, with their twisted tongues, dare I not say, their worn out bums and slivers of skin and blood, burning under the dying of the fire, cold and calculating, all lived within you, once.

Once, when you were perfect and lovely and sweet, when you were the graceful ruler of the night, when you looked at me, alive with excitement and delight, tearing through the sunset shadow, howling through the never-ending darkness.

How many times have the dirt pulled you down? Have the mud dirtied your flowery petals? Have the water tried and drowned you in red bicycle dust and loneliness?

When did you forsake you flower soul and become a dusty bicycle, dried up like forgotten foliage? The ghost of wheels, once took your young mind to great perhaps and endless horizons?

O, water lily, you are not dust and rust, you are a queen!

The crimson queen of the darkness!

And the broken wheels, the bicycle of my grandfather, the ghost of my past, do not let go!

So I raise the water lily from the pond, holding it like a shield against my chest,

Pain is inevitable, but I’ll be damned if I don’t go down kicking and screaming,

Because, between his rings of smoke and spitting coughs from worn out lungs, my grandfather reminded me,

We’re not our layers or rust and dust, we’re not the oil between the chains of our bicycles, we’re not the broken cogs in our crazy love machines, we’re crimson water lilies inside, we’re the rejects of a process, not our abilities and personalities.

So get up from the crooked wooden chair with three fourth legs, get on the rusted red bicycle, wave goodbye to grandpa, and ride into the dying light.

Hiroshima, 2014

Author’s commentary: In his poem “Sunflower Sutra,” Allen Ginsberg describes America as a broken and battered sunflower, but it possesses the ability to return to beauty. In my poem/emulation, I describe the loss of hopes and dreams (represented by the water lily, a flower that blooms in the evening twilight, in the dying of the light) as I grow older, and the sadness and yearning I felt. Ginsberg mentions Jack Kerouac as his companion in literature and ideologies, and I mention my grandfather, who was my companion as a child and taught me everything I know. Kerouac reminded Ginsberg that America was a sunflower, and my grandfather reminded me that not every star in the night sky is dead, and that the child in me is not lost.

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